In the State of Florida, Stand Your Ground laws have been highly publicized, from the Zimmerman case, where a Sanford neighborhood watchman was found not guilty of murder based in part on the law, to the Alexander case, where a Jacksonville woman was found guilty and sentenced to twenty years in prison for firing a warning shot. The interpretation and application of the law to individual cases has been confusing, to say the least. Stand Your Ground in Florida, simply put, is a law that permits a person to “stand his ground” and use force, instead of retreating, where there is reasonable belief that defensive force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm. Under the Florida Law, a person can claim justifiable use of force and can seek immunity from prosecution.
The newest issue in Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law, which is codified in Florida Statute Chapter 776, has been whether or not a person who is engaged in an unlawful activity may claim Stand Your Ground as a defense against the use of force. Florida courts have recently been debating the issue, specifically in cases where defendants who are convicted felons were in possession of a firearm and attempting to claim the defense. In 2013, the Stand Your Ground statute contained a provision that stated that only “a person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity” may claim Stand Your Ground as a defense. In the State of Florida, a felon may not be in possession of a firearm as a felony conviction includes the loss of the right to bear arms. Thus, the argument was whether or not a felon in possession of a firearm (which is technically an unlawful activity, chargeable as a second degree felony itself in the State of Florida under Florida Statute 790.23) would be precluded from claiming justifiable use of force, or standing his ground, under Florida Statutes 776.012 and 776.013, or precluded from seeking immunity from prosecution for using permissible defense force under Florida State 776.032.
Courts were split on the issue of whether or not a felon in possession of a firearm could claim a Stand Your Ground defense until 2014, when the Legislature in the State of Florida revised the statute to remove the provision that only “a person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity” may claim Stand Your Ground. Florida Governor, Rick Scott, signed the law into effect on June 20, 2014, motivated by what many argue was an “unfair” application of the law in the Alexander case (which was subsequently appealed and now awaiting a retrial). Now, pursuant to the statute, any person may claim Stand Your Ground. However, issues of retroactivity still abound. Thus, until the Florida Supreme Court reviews the particular issue regarding convicted felons claiming the defense under the old statute, the answer will remain unclear.
Stand Your Ground laws in the State of Florida can be difficult to navigate. If you have questions regarding Florida’s Stand Your Ground laws and their application to your specific case, you should contact a Florida criminal defense attorney. The hiring of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely upon advertisements. If you are being charged with a crime, you should consult an attorney regarding your individual case.
Casey Reiter is an associate attorney at Stuart R. Manoff & Associates, P.A. in West Palm Beach, Florida, practicing in the areas of Criminal Defense and Marital Law.